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Thomas J. Payne Market Development

The Tonto Rim Revisited!Click To Download

Zane Grey, the great western writer wrote of the romance of life in pioneer America from his cabin on the Mogillon Rim or as he called it, the Tonto Rim in Northern Arizona. I spent time on the Colorado plateau as well. Sure it is one of the most spectacularly beautiful regions of the world. This is the land of Indian Kachinas or Indian magic. It is a land of red rock bluffs, plentiful antelope, pinion juniper trees and the meanest rattle snakes on earth!

The Tonto Rim is also a crazy place where Navajo radio stations hawk Thunderbird wine in drive time radio, Drunks compete for leg space in the dumpster behind the Safeway in Winslow Arizona on a Saturday night, a continental breakfast is a microwaved frozen burrito at the circle K!

It is here on the high plateau which Zane Gray called the Tonto Tim, and the maps label as the Mogillon Rim - that I met one of the most unusual people in my life!

Well here it is!

George Salcedo and the Curse of the Flying Monkey Lizard

The jet stream dips onto the high plateau of Northern Arizona. Temperatures drop sometimes to 60 below Zero. One of these freezing nights on the Mogillon rim, I met George Salcedo.

Chevelon is a logging and fire camp in the middle of the Apache National Forest.. Take a dirt washboard road fifth miles to the south of Winslow Arizona, the land of Kachinas. The red rocks become pinon juniper, the world’s largest ponderosa forest occupies the former hunting grounds of the Navajo, and now the center of the State’s logging industry. My cabin at Chevelon, a small camp is occupied year round by around sixty forest Service workers and loggers.; Most are Navajo, some Hopi, some Zuni and one college boy Californian – me.

In the middle of the night, a knock on the door revealed, a Hispanic looking man, with a satanic looking goatee, one boot on and a tennis shoe on the other. A ripped denim jacket with a Mr. Zig Zag patch complemented a pair of cut off jeans. A stencil on his jacket read: "get your "shit together.

Enter George, Salcido, from Morenci Arizona.

George had just hiked more than 20 miles across Chevelon Canyon from a logging camp.   He had to leave in a hurry. Had an accident. Until six hours prior, George was working for a logging company.   George had a slight accident.: Evidently he tried to start his camp stove in the middle of the night using gas from his chainsaw and blew up the cabin. I leaned this was just one of a decade of slight accidents which followed George.

Without a country. .George is from a Spanish background. Folks up in Northern Arizona always like to differentiate themselves from Mexicans, and are called Spaniards. Kind of funny when a person with roots going back to the 1500s is treated as a newcomer in a land, but this is the way it is. Actually, George is half Yaqui Indian. On the pecking order of American Indians, I guess the Yaquis are the underclass. Like most North American Indians, the Yaquis were nomads. They ranged across the deserts, and when the borders were drawn between Mexico and the USA, they were on the southern side. American Indians certainly have troubles in this country, but nothing compare to the treatment of the natives in Mexico. Today the Yaquis in the USA are a people without a reservation and are scattered all over the Southwest. Most mistake them as Mexicans!

Reptilian Encounter! George says the problems began when he was sixteen years old. While hunting in the desert near Wickenberg, (A rugged desert area to the west of Phoeniz). claims he saw a gargoyle—or as he described it – a flying monkey lizard. Sometimes he neglects to mention that he also had ingested paiote buttons a powerful hallucinogen. But, anyway, in Yaqui culture, you see a gargoyle and you are in big bad luck trouble!

Upon returning to his home town of Morenci, (another God wful town to the East of Phoenix) George says things turned bad. He worked at the Morenci copper smelter. Morenci is a major copper pit city. In fact, the city has already been encroached by the pit and most of the population has been relocated. George said he noticed his luck go bad when he accidentally poured molten copper on one of his co-workers at the plant while performing maintenance on the cauldron. This kind of stuff happens all the time, he said!

At the funeral of the deceased smelter worker, also a cousin, Geirge got drunk, grabbed the microphone during testimonial time and humiliated himself. Imagine a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s You got to be your own best friend in a Wolfman Jack Falsetto! His family disowned him. One thing I learned about family life in Northern Arizona is that half of every family hates the other half. It is normally a wedding or funeral where someone gets drunk and grabs a microphone and insults the rest of the family and a war breaks out.

When you live in the frontier, there tend to be a lot of funerals. Folks tend to die very early out there. Young kids get out of high school and work for the mine or railroad, and are placed in the most dangerous jobs, as brakemen, choker setters in the logging camps, and oh yes, cleaning smelters. George’s family was no different, except that just about all of the Salcidos hated George for one or more reason. Mainly he was loud and obnoxious. His wolfman falsetto got louder the more he drank "You got to be your own best friend." "Each and every day of your life!" This is the only song I ever heard him sing. Normally someone would put him out of his misery. I saw one tall Navajo, Vernon Long, throw George through a window one night to stop him. It didn’t.

George sealed his destiny in Morenci, when he stole a color television from his grandmother and pissed off the entire Salcedo clan. Not only did he steal the TV, but he dropped it in the driveway! Six moths after the gargoyle experience and the smelter accident and television incident, George was banned from Morenci. In fact some of his relatives vowed to shoot him on sight.

Yah tah hey!. When someone wants to disappear in Arizona, they head for the north rim of the Grand Canyon, or Kaibab Country. This region is more allied with Utah and you must drive all the way around the state to get there. No bridge over the Grand Canyon. George signed up with a Navajo tree panting crew. Each summer thousands of acres of the previously logged forests and range lands go up in blazes in Arizona. The Indian fire crews, including the one I served on, put the fires out, with shovels and pulaskis. In the winter time, an army of tree planters descend on the forest to re-plant. Tree planters are a different group. They live in their vehicles, many are elaborately constructed into mobile tree planer castles. They spend weeks in the muddy fields planting trees by hand, getting paid per tree. They defer showers, newspapers, outside life. Many like George are running from something. Some just like to plant trees! George was turning things around, becoming a noted tree planter. There is an art to planting trees. The forest service will even dig up the trees to see if they are done right, and George did it right. One night while travelling from one assignment to the next, George’s luck turned again, and the entire crew of 11 perished from inhalation of carbon monoxide from the vehicle. George could never figure out why he lived. I think because he was rally intoxicated and maybe also used to the very bad air in the copper belt!

Heading South. What do Arizonans do when they have worn out their welcome in Arizona. They head for New Mexico. George met up with his old friend from Gargoyle Days, named Manuel Luna. Manuel was a role model for George. He was a veteran of the Arizona penal system, mainly for petty crimes, and had just been released from the State Penitentiary at Florence. Both George and Manuel met up in the northland and hitchhiked south with a Pakistani. It is hard to believe that a Pakistani gentleman would travel the length of Arizona diagonally, as most Arizonans do not make this voyage form Points North thorough the Mogillon rim, White Mountains and over to the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. Somewhere near the border east of Springerville, the driver went off the road with George sound asleep in the back seat. Luna and the Pakistani, climbed up the embankment and flagged down a car, and sped off leaving George asleep or in a stupor in the vehicle. I learned later that the vehicle was stolen from George’s former home town. The odd couple conveniently borrowed George’s tree planting cash and were never seen again. George walked and attempted to hitchhike, and outside the town of reserve, encountered an sheriff vehicle with lights and sirens. The sheriff passed and returned half an hour later, and placed George under arrest for urinating in public. Off to the reserve New Mexico Jail.

The Land of Enchantment. George found life in the Reserve Jail a pleasant experience after the prior six months. Three square meals a day and lots of friendly people. Six hours after incarceration, the reserve Jail was visited by the Immigration and Naturalization Service(INS), to pick up illegal aliens. George was mistakenly loaded into the bus south and deposited in the town of Agua Caliente, Sonora Mexico. This by the way is the home of the main Yaqui bands. Upon returning to the Reserve Jail, the sheriff was enraged to learn that his urinating, obnoxious prisoner had escaped. Warrants were put out on George, and not a person at the jail figured out that he actually was abducted by the INS.

Return to the North. A good tree planter and tree thinner is hard to find. George hitched up with another work crew and made it back up the rim to the Town of Payson where he linked up with the UFO abducted/logging foreman. George was a good worker, just obnoxious. One drink, he slurred; two he sang, three he was in your face, four drinks, he slobbered. Typically this was remedied with a boot out the door. On one occasion he was thrown out the ide door of vn. Another, thrown across the bar at the White’s Café in Winslow. For some reason, the Navajos hated George. I always thought it was more than the annoying wolfman routine. Regardless of how drunk he became, how many times he was beat up – he was always on time for work.

That cold night in Chevelon, George joined my crew, and began a six month reing of antagonism.and obnoxiousness. But, he could string more than a half mile of barbed wire fence a day when sober! During that period, his legacy of bad luck continued, and the Navajos were well aware. One forester, did some wiring on a vintage cabin and accidently hooked into the super high voltage line above. His feet were blown off. The screws on his boots were driven more than an inch into the concrete floor. While fighting a forest fire, one of Gorge’s compadres, sprayed cold water onto a tractor engulfed in flames, and was blown more than 150 feet away H lived, with just burns, and got a helicopter ride to Phoenix in the deal. Although everyone hated George, we tolerated him. After all just about everyone up there has some peculiar way about himself, or else they would not be living out in the middle of nowhere. Also, George could pitch a mean slow pitch on our softball team. George was a hell of a worker.-just stay away from him after hours.

Hasta la Vista! One day, George went to town, and never returned. He left all of his belongings, including the get your shit together denim jacket, and prized mining boots with metatarsal guard. He wasn’t in Winslow, and some said he was incarcerated in Window Rock on the Navajo Reservation. I hope not as he was oil and water with the Navajos.

Two years later, the George mystery was solved – sort of. While working with a surveyors crew on the winding road on the Chevelon Canyon., we spotted a motorcycle in the distance, with a familiar face and what looked like a man in a turban. The bike was missing a muffler and the two stroke could be heard for miles. George downshifted to brake and motioned that he could not stop. Either he had no brakes, or needed to get somewhere fast, which considering this was fifty miles from a Circle K, (convenience store) this is hard to believe. We heard the whine of the two stroke in the distance, and could see the dust cloud as he passed over the Mogillon Rim to the White River Apache reservation. (A place he was equally unwelcome at). We wonder whether he died that day. We found no bike anywhere. His relatives in Morenci of course were happy he was absent. The UFO Abducted loggers knew nothing.

Some of my old friends told me that he re-surfaced in El Paso. That is kind of the end of the line in the southwest – next stop is Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

I wondered if the gargoyle curse has a statute of limitations or knows national boundaries?


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Copyright © 1998 Thomas J. Payne Market Development 
Last modified: May 03, 2003